Jesus Was a Socialist
By Valentine Lobar (blog post)
Jesus was the very first Socialist. Got your attention with that statement, didn’t I?
Over the past several months, many of my more politically right friends and family members have grown quite bellicose during discussions about the current administration and in particular the current President. One of the most frequent slanders I have heard is, “Obama is a Socialist!” Well, as I have heard this label more than once applied to this President, to many Liberal Democrats, and to others myself included who believe there are better options than flat out capitalism I decided to look into the situation and determine for myself the following:
A) Is Obama really a Socialist?
B) Is Socialism an entirely bad economic framework?
C) What was the basis of Socialism, where did it start?
In the West, we have peculiar views of Socialism. In fact, all too often, we wrongly equate Socialism with Nazism, the Third Reich, and post WWII Russia Communism / Marxism, in truth many pundits, those talking heads where so much of our social views seem to be derived from have put horns, cloven hooves, and a tail on socialism and call it evil.
[Huh? Who ordinarily equates socialism with Nazism? It is true, but rather few people understand that equivalence. Though Hitler himself was more an opportunist than an ideologue when it came to socialism, he used its doctrines to regulate industry and turn it into a war machine as well as to “stimulate”
out of the Great Depression, for which Hitler has received praise from noted leftists like John K. Galbraith. Beyond Hitler, many Nazis were ardent Marxists at one time and arguably never stopped being Marxists in their hearts. (These included Joseph Goebbels and Otto Strasser.) And why only post-World War II Russia [sic]? The Soviet government did plenty of evil before the War. How do you think it came to power in the first place?] Germany
Further, we wrongly connect Socialism with a political movement, which it is decidedly not. Consider the definition of Socialism, there are many however, for the purpose of this discussion I will use the following classic definition:
English Dictionary. "1. A theory or policy of social organization which aims at or advocates the ownership and control of the means of production, capital, land, property, etc., by the community as a whole, and their administration or distribution in the interests of all. 2. A state of society in which things are held or used in common." Oxford
[Just how have we established here that socialism is not a political movement or system?]
I want to go a step further and identify the historically and generally accepted forms of socialism; I believe they are applicable. During my reading, I found many different theories, different standards, and applications. I was surprised to learn how far back the theory of Socialism went, the first writings of which were by Henri de Saint-Simon in 1823. What you say, nearly 200 years ago that can’t be right; nevertheless, it is indeed the truth Utopian Socialism emerged as a economic theory in the early 19th-century laying the groundwork for modern Socialist thought.
[All the way back to 1823! I would say there were many earlier yet relatively recent influences. Thomas More’s Utopia being only one. The author might be interested to know that J.S. Mill wrote his early 1860s (posthumously published in the 1870s) essay “On Socialism” with reference almost solely to early 19th century socialists; Mill seems to have been completely unaware of Marx or any other German socialist. All forms of socialism are utopian, BTW, especially if, like Marx and Engel’s brand, they claim not to be.]
What I found in my reading were two distinct schools of thought:
The first is the Social Democrats; this theory proposes a mixed economy with the nationalization of key industry. Social Democrats promote private ownership of property, capital, and enterprise. What appears to be the differentiators in those nations where Social Democrats hold or have held sway is market-regulation and tax funded welfare programs.
The other school of thought is the Libertarian Socialist; this theory rejects all forms of state control and private ownership reverting instead to collective ownership of production and the economy. Decision-making done via councils or workplace democracy. The Libertarian Socialist movement is more closely aligned to the original Utopian view of Socialism, which espoused communal ownership and no private property or enterprise.
[The author has nothing to say about the degree of interpenetration between these ideologies; they have, in fact, cross-pollinated from the start. Today, no one on the left does not owe a debt, intellectual or otherwise, to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the founders of Marxism. That theory has taken over the field in socialist thought. This is one of the reasons why it is foolish to argue that President Barack Obama is not a socialist, because whenever someone says “redistribution of wealth,” Karl Marx deserves a notional footnote.]
Now, having established the forms of Socialism as both economic and social theories it is time to examine why I believe Jesus was the first Socialist.
Jesus was the first Socialist, this isn’t really a question, but a statement of fact based upon the New Testament Bible. In fact I find it an interesting phenomenon that those who are most vocal in their rejection of social programs to assist the poor and displaced of our society are the very same who in most cases call themselves the “Moral Majority” and espouse Christian values as the basis of their political stance. Nevertheless, let me return to my proofs of why Jesus was the first Socialist, how I have arrived at this conclusion.
I am going to start with Mark Chapter 10:21-25 21Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. 23Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the
!” 24The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God ! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God ." kingdom of God
So here, we have a very good example of Utopian Socialism in action
[Now there’s a contradiction in terms; Jesus is always more interested in action than theory, which is what “Utopian Socialism” is, a modern theory.]
with Jesus telling the wealthy young man the only way to follow him and gain heaven was to give away his great wealth to the poor, in other words redistribution of personal wealth to those with great need from those with great riches. Naturally, this must be very difficult for some to swallow, notice that the young mans face ‘fell’ when told he must give away his wealth to follow Jesus. Here though is our first proof, we must have no personal wealth beyond our needs; Socialism seems to be de rigueur.
[The author conflates VOLUNTARY with INVOLUNTARY “redistribution of personal wealth.” Also, she begs the question by calling voluntary sharing of wealth “Socialism” without having demonstrated that it is. Also, note that some of Jesus followers were wealthy and put their wealth at his disposal. See especially the activities of the wealthy youth, Lazarus, in John, chapter 12, where he apparently hosts Jesus and his disciples (12:1-2) and joins them when Jesus preaches (12:9). If it were not contrary to tradition, one might admit that this wealthy young man was essentially an honorary apostle.]
Moving on to the next area that might prove my point and which certainly has a few feathers ruffling today; that of health care or in this case Jesus Healing those in need. He certainly didn’t seem to pay much attention to the conventions of the time, like oh say working on the Sabbath, which got him into a few bits of trouble with the powers that be. Nonetheless, heal he did without concern or consideration for pre-existing conditions or whose toes he was stepping on Jesus made his way through the land casting out demons, healing leprosy, epilepsy, and other dastardly illnesses that afflicted the people, he cared not a whit for whether a person was rich or poor, of the ruling class, or the most destitute beggar before the temple he healed them. The Pharisees, although the ruling class within the temple at the time and thus in control of wealth, law, and healing could not prevent him from teaching or healing, even on the Sabbath.
[Under Obamacare, a doctor who healed people that the government told him not to would end up being fined or put in jail, if not executed!]
There are many examples of this sprinkled throughout the New Testament, here are just a few:
[One of my bugaboos is people who cite scripture without quoting it (or at least summarizing it as I do above) so that by the time the rest of us have looked it up, the perpetrator has left the building in self-righteous triumph. On the other hand, with nothing but the citations, I am free to read the translation of my choice.]
[“He went throughout
Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and illness among the people.”],
[Identical to 4:23 except that this occurs beyond
Galilee “in all the cities and villages.”],
[“When they came to the crowd, a man came to him, knelt before him,” I suppose the author means we should read the following verses, too. This is the start of a story about someone asking for healing and Jesus giving it, but not before, at the beginning of verse 17:17, he complains about having to endure “this faithless and depraved generation,” which might be meant for everyone present or especially for his disciples who had already tried and failed to cure the patient.]
[“Then he returned from the region of
[“They came to
[Oops! My Bible doesn’t have any verse John 9:51, but 9:35-41 is a healing story. Perhaps the author means that passage. In any case, none of these passages proves anything except that Jesus gave away his healing power to everyone regardless of class (which must be the point that the author is belaboring here) for free unless we account for the fee his patients sometimes paid by having to listen to his angry rants, a small price to pay for the cure of epilepsy and blindness, to be sure!]
Now to one of the best proofs and that is found in Matthew 25:31-46: The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. For those that don’t know this one the key statement is as follows:
41"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' 44"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life”.
[Again we have the continued conflation of VOLUNTARY (Jesus) and INVOLUNTARY (Marx, Hitler, Obama, etc.) redistribution of wealth as well as the segregation of those to be hated and rejected, which superficially could be seen as parallel to modern socialist-inspired class hatred, but let’s not be carried away by the unexamined conflation of beliefs from two completely different historical periods. BTW, I see that I use the word "conflation" a great deal to describe the author's notions; that is because the conflation of antitheses is her most frequent fallacy.]
Finally, the teachings continued after the death of Jesus, the best example of the Utopian Socialism being the following by James found in 2:1-7:
1My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. 2Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 3If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," 4have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?
[This passage is, at least at its outset, about TREATING people equally, rather than arbitrarily MAKING them equal, the latter being what socialism seeks to do. Note that James does not say that we should steal the ring and fine clothes of the rich man and give them to the poor man. Also it is not clear whether the “rich” who aggravate James here are fellow Christians; they might be in one verse and might not be in the next, or in neither. Note, too, that the rich exploiters (or “oppressors,” which is how the Greek word is usually translated) are not exploiters in terms of the Marxist class theory of exploitation, but, rather, as James suggests, oppressors in two specific ways: bringing legal charges against (fellow?) Christians and slandering (or “blaspheming,” as the Greek actually says) against Jesus. What if a rich person doesn’t do either of those things but continues to be a rich person? Is he still an oppressor? James does not say. Besides, these and the following verses form an admonition to those who would be inclined to curry favor with the rich rather than an attack on the rich themselves, which seems to be a side issue and not James’ main point (and to the extent that he does go on about his particular grudge against the rich, it might tell us more about James than about Christianity).]
So now, we circle back around to my original questions; is the current President, Barack Obama a Socialist? I think the answer is that he is not any more a Socialist than any other American is, we simply have a difficult time recognizing ourselves or our economy for what it truly is. The fact is the current economic system has some aspects of Socialism including government regulation of certain industries, provisioning of health insurance for the elderly (Medicare), provisioning of care for the poor at a state level (Welfare, WIC, and Medicaid), taxing authority supported police, fire, and aid (911) are all examples of socialist programs. Each is generally found in countries with mixed economies, that is Socialism and Capitalism are both at work. Thus, my first conclusion Barack Obama is not a Socialist he is not even very far left of the middle; he is a Democrat and that is all he is.
[In other words, socialism has become the norm, therefore the president is not a socialist. The idea that President Obama is “not even very far left” and is close to the middle is incredible; he definitely comes from the far left—socialist—wing of the Democratic party. His parents were socialists; his grandparents were socialists; his mentor, Frank Marshall Davis, was a card carrying Communist; he explicitly sought out Marxist friends and teachers wherever he went. He has been steeped in and chosen to steep himself in socialism his whole life. He worked as a community organizer when that was nothing other than a socialist occupation based on the teachings of the socialist Saul Alinsky. It would be miraculous if he were not a socialist after all of that. He also allied himself with the most radical parts of the labor movement before his election and has pandered to them since. He is in favor of wealth redistribution and universal single payer health care, the latter of which is more simply called socialized medicine. (Actually, in 2007, he told labor activists that he had always been in favor of universal single payer health care; then, in 2009, he told the American people he had never been in favor of it; you decide which audience he was lying to, but you can't deny he lied to one or the other.) To this man a mixed economy is not a system to advocate but is rather a mere station on the way to absolute government control of the means of production. Also, lumping together welfare and police protection as socialism is apples and oranges since the Framers of the Constitution envisioned a society that provided some sort of permanent police power (mostly though not exclusively local) but not one where the public dole became permanently run by the federal government.]
The next question I asked is easily answered, is Socialism an entirely bad economic framework? The answer is yes, it is a bad framework as a stand-alone economy it is not possible to successfully manage a country in a pure Socialist economy. Nevertheless, the mixed economy of capitalism and Social Democracy is the appropriate and moral basis of a successful nation. This is true both from an economic standpoint and from the standard of ensuring all members of a society are able to their ability to be educated, work in relevant jobs, participate in government, and be cared for when necessary. Providing for the weakest members of society should be a given rather than a fight. Just as a purely Socialist economy is not sustainable neither is a purely Capitalist driven economy as we have ample proof of today in the
. United States
[I suppose we are to be grateful that the author realizes that pure socialism is a bad idea, but do we have proof today that pure capitalism is a bad system? For that to be true, we would have to have pure capitalism. But there isn’t a pure capitalist system. So how can we prove that pure capitalism doesn’t work with examples from a mixed economy such as ours? It is a mixed economy--moving in the direction of pure socialism--that we have proof doesn’t work.]
So I say again, Jesus was the first Socialist. Perhaps all those who shout from their pulpits and their soapboxes about their moral right to gain riches on the backs and at the cost of others should check their premise.
[The author might want to check her premise that anyone claims such a right. The notion that capitalism is about riding others' backs or achieving at the cost (and presumably to the detriment) of others is not what free market capitalism is about at all. It is about benefiting from mutually beneficial exchanges with others and benefiting from the fruit of one's own labor. It is, indeed, the only moral way to live as opposed to setting up a system whereby not only those who are truly needy, but also those who are merely lazy and/or foolish, are free to take what they want from others without so much as compensation.]
While they are pointing fingers and calling names, perhaps they should read the book they are standing upon, yes that would be the Bible they so readily reference usually incorrectly. During their ranting and ravings, their demand that the government “keep their hands off their Medicare”; perhaps it would serve them well to review the statements and teachings of the man who is the basis of their entire belief system, maybe this would help them.
[Did the author really attribute to her opponents the slogan “keep [the government’s] hands off [our] Medicare”! This does not seem to be a fight over capitalism versus socialism but rather a duel between recipients of different entitlements. That is indeed something we are likely going to see more of, and that is so precisely because the socialistic programs being advanced in the name of health care reform are going to pit Medicare recipients against Medicaid recipients as well as others; this conflict seems to be what the president wants since his legislation has made it inevitable.]
Obama is not a Socialist. Jesus however was the first Socialist.
[At best, the Scottish verdict of Not Proven would seem to apply. I rather conclude that the president is very much a socialist, and more so than any Democrat since Franklin Roosevelt (who used to roll into cabinet meetings with the greeting, “Good morning, fellow socialists”; but at least Roosevelt was an American nationalist whereas Obama is an internationalist, more interested in helping other countries overtake the United States economically and militarily). To ignore the president’s own expressions of his socialism (as well as his internationalism and anti-Americanism) is just ostrichism. Jesus, on the other hand, having lived long before socialism was even conceivable in its modern sense, was not a socialist. To the arguable extent that he was political at all, he was an anarchist who advocated non-participation in political-economy, equal treatment (not equal outcomes), and freedom of choice. He did not believe in patronage but associated with everyone freely and led by example. He rejected charity by force, never even considering such an absurdity. He did not propose to coerce anyone into anything. He recognized that charity is a choice, not a mandate and that if it isn't a choice, it has no value.]